I watched the first episodes of “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” the new HBO series that runs Sunday nights at 9 p.m. It did not do the trick for me, and I kept wondering what HBO — usually so particular in its curation — was doing with such a tiresome and redundant series. The talent is good, including director David Nutter (“Game of Thrones”), writer-producer Steven Moffat (“Sherlock,” “Doctor Who”), and lead actors Rose Leslie and Theo James. But the result is unsatisfying.
Based on the 2003 novel by Audrey Niffenegger, the story revolves around James’s Henry, who is a time traveler against his will. When he’s ripped out of one time and dropped into another, he lands naked and with no money. Each time, he must scramble to find clothes, which becomes a comic bit until, quickly, it’s not. He is unstuck in time, but his wife, Leslie’s Clare, is not. She’s linear. And despite being the titular character, she is underwritten and seems to exist only in relation to Henry.
So the pair meet at different ages, at times before Clare even knows him. Some of those scenes find the adult Henry dropping in on his preteen future wife and forming a bond with her, and they are odd and uncomfortable, even while they make sense in terms of the show’s time-travel logic. He knows they’re fated to be together; she does not, but she becomes smitten nonetheless. He can meet his beloved as a child, something many of us would enjoy. Still, it’s creepy.
But the bigger problem is that it’s all just a lot of time-traveling and dealing with the rigors of time-traveling. It’s mono-thematic. We don’t get to feel their bond because they’re always recovering from disappearances and sudden appearances and time-frame disconnects. There are also direct-to-camera sequences in which Clare and Henry talk about how difficult it is to manage a relationship under the circumstances, which only compound the repetitive qualities. Henry, in particular, understandably seems a bit weary of it all, a feeling I could relate to while watching him.